Monthly Archives: April 2015

Patterns and Posterity: or, What’s not in the Lady’s Magazine

I’ve started to notice a bit of a theme in our recent posts for the blog, most of which have been about the difficulty of writing them. Many of these difficulties arise from the challenge of trying to make sense of what is before us when we read the magazine. How on earth can we even begin to work out who Camilla or J. L-g was, for instance? How can we make sense of the periodical’s editorial policy when articles  – sometimes articles placed right next to one another – directly contradict each other? Do such moments exhibit a lapse of editorial judgement? Or are they an accidental juxtaposition? A strategic spur to debate and controversy? Even as we start to find answers to some of these questions, more and more problems present themselves to us. It certainly keeps us on our toes, that’s for sure.

In the past few days I have been working with yet another interpretive conundrum that I have been very aware of it for some time: How can we write about parts of the magazine that are no longer there?

Binder's directions

LM XII (Supp. 1781). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Call any magazine, especially the Lady’s, ephemera in my earshot and I’m afraid I won’t be able to let it go. The longstanding association of historical women’s magazine’s with the ephemeral, the frivolous and the disposable could not seem further from the truth behind such titles. The Lady’s was a magazine that always had an eye to futurity. Monthly issues, like those of many of its rivals, were intended to be preserved in bound annual volumes and the last issues of each year published binder’s instructions on how to organise the material for posterity, especially non-paginated items, such as the handsome illustrations the magazine provided each month. Whether you read the magazine today in digital or hard copy it will almost always be in this annual bound format for which we owe a debt of thanks to the collective efforts of binders who curated them and the readers who agreed with the magazine’s editors that the publication was worth preserving in the first place.

But not everything was preserved. Many surviving bound volumes are missing the Supplement or Index. Others are missing (whether by error or design is usually hard to tell) odd pages of text, engravings or fashion plates. (I always like to think the latter might be missing when they are because their owners had taken them to their dressmakers Barbara Johnson style, but of course, we cannot be sure.)

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LM XIV (April 1783). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Then there are those parts of the magazine that were never designed to be preserved, not even by the editors who boasted of their inclusion. This is especially true of song sheets and embroidery patterns, both of which were regular features of the magazine in its first decades. Neither of these types of material are to be found in the annual ‘Directions to the Binder’ and in fact when they are mentioned at all, as in the note that appeared under the advertisement for the 1771 second volume, it was to confirm that they had no place in the bound versions of the magazine at all:  ‘Note. The Patterns to be taken out’ (LM II [July 1771]: n. p.). Such features of the magazine were clearly meant to be pulled out and used. And evidently they were.

Nonetheless, we are fortunate that some owners and binders ignored these dictates. Indeed, song sheets can be found fairly frequently in the bound volumes of the magazine for the first two decades digitised on the Adam Matthews Eighteenth-Century Journals V database that is our main source for our project, as they are in other, less systematically digitised runs of the periodical that can be found online as well as in variously located hard copies yet to be scanned.

Embroidery patterns, however, are much less common. This has been a recurrent source of disappointment to me in the years I have been reading and working on the magazine. As I set about writing a paper I am giving at the Disseminating Dress conference at York at the end of the month, it has begun to really vex me.

LM XII (Feb. 1781). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XII (Feb. 1781). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

The inclusion of a monthly pattern was an important feature of the magazine from its first issue in August 1770. In its inaugural Address to readers, the editors placed dress and fashion at the heart of the magazine’s mission and identified the inclusion of patterns as an important part of its utility and appeal to readers. The ‘subjects’ the magazine would alight upon were designed to render readers’ ‘minds not less amiable than [their] persons’, the editors declared: ‘But as external appearances are the first inlet to the treasures of the heart; and the advantages of dress, though they cannot communicate beauty, may at least make it more conspicuous, it is intended in this collection to present the sex with the most elegant patterns for the Tambour, Embroidery, or every kind of Needlework.’ Taking advantage of ‘the progressive improvement made in the art of pattern-drawing’, the magazine could boast for just sixpence an issue for the first three decades of its run: ‘[e]very branch of literature’, ‘engravings designed to adorn the person’, as well as ‘a pattern’ that alone ‘would cost them double the money at the Haberdashers’ (LM I, [Aug. 1770]: 1).

In part this is a masterpiece of marketing, the eighteenth-century equivalent to a television shopping channel telling you that not only will the advertised purchase price get you X and the Y you never even knew you wanted, but a free (yes: absolutely free!) Z into the bargain. But my strong feeling is that the patterns represented much more than simply a commercial ploy.

Patterns served various ends within the magazine. Some were educational. I think I would feel as if all my birthdays and Christmases had come at once if I ever came across one of the patterns for embroidered maps of Britain and the Americas published in 1776 and 1777 and intended to supplement the fascinating series of essays on the history and geography of these nations published in these years. I haven’t seen any in copies of the magazine I have consulted.

LM XVII (Mar. 1786). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XVII (Mar. 1786). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

The vast majority, though, were for decorating garments and other household objects, from watch cases and fire screens to sleeves, pockets and gentleman’s ruffs. These patterns can potentially tell us a great deal about the magazine and its understanding of its female readers. At the very least, their inclusion is a strong indication that for all its interest in the elaborate and extravagant fashions worn at court and by contemporary celebrities such as Mary Robinson or Sarah Siddons, the Lady’s expected its middling readers (lady does not mean aristocratic, here) to fashion themselves in a  modest and simple style. Ornamentation, in all things, merely for ornamentation’s sake was to be despised. In  both their intellectual and sartorial pursuits,  the magazine’s readers were instead supposed to be characterised by a considered elegance, marked by grace and cultivated through reflection and practice. I strongly suspect that the embroidery patterns the magazine published played an important part in shaping this ideal.

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LM XII (Supp. 1781). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Every single one of the patterns that appeared in the magazine is briefly described in the table of contents for the month in which it appeared. Quite what the existence of more of the physical patterns would add to this picture is uncertain. What is clearer to me is that their absence is not a sign that the magazine was frivolous or disposable. In matters sartorial as in all things, the Lady’s saw itself as both attractive and useful to the lives of its readers. The fact that so few of these patterns have survived to this day – that many were presumably used – suggests that it may well have been right.


Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent 






Location, location, location: the geographical distribution of reader-contributors to the Lady’s Magazine (part 1)

LM X (May 1779). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

In her recent post on ‘J. L-g’, one of the hundreds of signatures appearing under contributions to the Lady’s Magazine, my fellow research associate Jenny DiPlacidi pointed out that the contributor who used this signature was situated in Market Lavington. I have to admit that I have not yet consulted many sources on the history of Wiltshire, but I will venture a guess, and assume that it was not a major hub of the late-eighteenth-century periodical press. However, the fact that someone from there was a frequent contributor did not surprise me. Our regular readers will know that a large part of the magazine’s content was supplied by amateur reader-contributors, who sometimes are helpfully forthcoming on their whereabouts, and these locations are spread all over the United Kingdom. When possible, the locations of authors will be included in our annotated index, parts of which will be published in the near future. This is the first in a series of blog posts to discuss the many uses of this kind of information.

Scholars may want to know where contributors were based for several reasons. A location can be a great research lead when studying individual authors. When you are, for instance, looking into a contribution with a common signature such as “Camilla”, you will jump for joy upon discovering that this particular Camilla must be sought within the more manageable research context of the town of Cambridge (click image for larger version):

index excerpt 20 April

Lady’s Magazine devotees like myself, who wish to find out more about this publication as a whole, may wish to use this data to draw up so-called ‘prosopographies’ of people associated with the magazine. ‘Prosopography’ (emphasis on the third syllable) can be best understood as the practice of drawing up descriptions of groups of people about whom little precise information can be found individually, but about whom at least a few shared factors are known, on the basis of which we can get some idea of what they shared, and how they differed. You could for instance chart how different parts of the world are proportionally represented in the magazine, or, combined with the genre classifications and tags by the aforementioned Dr. DiPlacidi, which regions tended to furnish which types of content. Because for the Lady’s Magazine the categories of readers and contributors overlap, mapping the contributors will at once allow you to make cautious surmises about the geographical distribution of the readership as well, ever a problematic issue with older periodicals because data on subscription is inevitably scarce, and patchy at best.

LM XXI (Oct. 1790). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XXI (Oct. 1790). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

For about one tenth of the contributions per annual volume on average, the magazine will tell you straightforwardly where its contributors were based. It does this often by giving a location with the signature appearing under contributions, as in the example of ‘J. L-g’ given above, or by telling you a bit more about the contributors in its recurrent editorial “To our Correspondents” columns and the internal advertisements in the annual Supplement. At other times, it pays to read the contributions carefully, as some authors will tell you where they live somewhere within, or talk about other contributors whom they happen to know more about. Finally, some pieces discuss topics of extremely local interest, a case in point being the many submitted enigmatical lists of (eligible?) bachelors in specific rural situations, their secluded hiding place now to be discovered by every fair reader adept at solving puzzles.

We are busily at work on our index and are now about two-thirds into the covered run of the magazine, though we obviously will continue to update the index with new findings after it has gone online. We will soon be able to provide a few basic charts indicating geographical patterns in the magazine’s authorship, but at this early stage of our research some preliminary observations may serve to illustrate the use of these locations, and suggest some issues that I will address in the future instalments in this series. The first of these is that the Lady’s Magazine seems to have been foremost an English publication. Irish, Scottish, Welsh and even colonial locations appear, but in far lower numbers than English ones. While the relative demographics of the different British territories of course are relevant, the number of contributors indicating a location outside of England is conspicuously low. This would argue, though not conclusively, that the magazine also had relatively fewer readers in these places, and begs the question whether this hypothetical predominantly English audience is reflected in the selection of republished content, and its diverse ideological implications. Secondly, although every region of England appears to be represented, a disproportionately large part of the located contributors lived close to the magazine’s publishing office in Central London. With locations in London it is taken for granted that the reader will know where to place them, as even for less fashionable areas only the street name is stated.

We hope that you are as excited as we are about getting the figures behind these observations, as well as many others that will allow us (and that means you too) to finally give this pioneering and vastly influential periodical the scholarly attention that it deserves.

Dr. Koenraad Claes
School of English, University of Kent

The Mysterious J. L-g from Market Lavington

John Legg 3

LM X (Oct. 1779). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission

A frequent contributor to the Lady’s Magazine in the 1770s and 1780s bore the signature J. L-g from Market Lavington, a small town in Wiltshire. Some of the items provided by the writer, such as ‘A Caution to the Ladies’ in the 1778 supplement, are opinion pieces designed to advise women against the dangers of fortune tellers, female vanity, and indolence. But other works were meditations and reflections penned whilst walking through the town’s surrounding fields and forests. Describing the prospects, flora, and fauna, the works focus on the emotional and spiritual states the writer experiences in nature.

It was whilst reading the October 1779 contribution entitled ‘A Description of October’ that I began to develop that sympathy and liking for the subject that can so quickly send an archivist on a wild and time-consuming chase to identify the person behind the mysterious signature.  This reflective work revealed more of the author’s personality, demonstrating his love of animals and environment and an empathy with the hares and pheasants pursued by hound and hunters.

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LM X (Oct. 1779). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

J. L-g describes the hare, ‘poor timid creature’, that ‘perplexed, and in the utmost distress […] pours all his soul in flight’ (Oct: 542) before he ‘falls a victim to his numerous enemies’. The writer then turns to the ‘murdering gun’ of the fowler and the pheasants who are killed for the ‘luxurious appetite of man’, lamenting: ‘poor creatures! How hard is your fate!’ (542).

In spite of his conservative advice (that, frankly, rankled me at times), J. L-g identified so deeply with the persecuted prey that I reluctantly began to like the author who hitherto seemed cantankerous and moralizing. Feeling a peculiar kinship to a long-deceased writer is not such a bad thing for archivists working with so much anonymous and pseudonymous literature. It is easy when reading so many items by the same person to develop an idea of who they were and what they were like, to create a name to fill the blanks in the signature, and to imagine the person behind the persona. Though my research role on the project is to focus on the magazine’s content, it was this sense of kinship, that sneaking fondness for the self-described shy and reclusive writer, that made me so interested in the man behind the contributions.

John Legg 1

LM X (Oct. 1779). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

When other items from the same town began appearing signed ‘E. L-g’  or ‘Eliza L-g’ or ‘E-h L-g’ I began to feel I had at least a few possibilities to send on to the project’s attribution research associate, Koenraad Claes. But Koenraad’s research skills would have been wasted on this because in one quick google search for the keywords ‘18th century’, ‘Elizabeth L’ and ‘market lavington’ I was directed to the Market Lavington Museum blog that made it clear the signatures belong to John Legg and Elizabeth Legg, siblings, of Market Lavington. A quick email to the very helpful museum curator, Rog Frost, supplied me with a memoir of John Legg and photographs of the gravestones. These can be viewed on the museum’s blog.

Identifying John and Elizabeth Legg is only one small piece of a much larger puzzle of contributors and communities of writers. But it helps us to ask more questions about the correspondents and their relationships with each other and the editors of the Lady’s Magazine. It also demonstrates how essential modern day communities of researchers, curators, genealogists and bloggers are in uncovering the men and women who wrote for the periodical.


Dr Jenny DiPlacidi

School of English

University of Kent

The Lady’s Magazine, boarding schools and other problems

One of the great pleasures involved in working on the Lady’s Magazine is talking to people about it. I love surprising people with its diverse contents and am yet to find a subject (from the reception of Dryden to recipes for the cure of various skin disorders) about which it does not say something interesting across the course of its long run. (Keep testing me, people!)

Frontispiece to LM IV (1773).

Frontispiece to LM IV (1773). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

But while it is very easy to say what is in the Lady’s Magazine, characterising what it is really about is much harder. In part, this is because every time you think you have hit upon the thing that holds the periodical together (fashion, class, morals or women’s issues – whatever they might be) you read something that throws you completely. This is, in part, because the multi-authored, multi-vocal format means that the only consistent thing about the magazine is its inconsistency. Even when a contribution is not in active dialogue with another it buffets up against the articles it appears alongside, creating a range of possible meanings only some of which could have been in the control of the magazine’s editors.

I plan to say more about the production of meaning and ways of reading the magazine in future posts. Here, though, I just want to focus briefly on one of the many consistent inconsistencies of the magazine: its attitude to boarding schools. It’s a subject I have become increasingly fascinated by, not least because it speaks to one of the key things that I now am coming to think holds the magazine together: the question of women’s education.

Koenraad has already noted on the blog that a small but significant number of Lady’s Magazine contributors (particularly of enigmas, rebuses and translations in response to the monthly translation competitions that ran in the magazine’s early years) were boys and girls. We know this because their age sometimes appears alongside their contributions or because they are accompanied by the name of the school they attended.

LM, IV (May1773): 23.

LM, IV (May 1773): 23. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Pupils wore the name of their school alongside their signatures like a badge of honour. Meanwhile, the ubiquity with which the names of establishments such as Mrs Pasham’s boarding school, Northampton, Pimlico boarding school, or Brown and Reynolds’s school in Stepney, appear seems to suggest that headmasters and governesses saw their pupils sending in contributions to the magazine as an effective (and cheap) form of advertising.

It was a game that the magazine was not only willing to play but of which its editors recognised the necessity. As they acknowledged on many occasions, boarding schools were a potentially large market for their periodical, and being put on school library shelves was important for the magazine’s continued success. This was not just a matter of securing subscriptions, as the editors made clear in the ‘To our Correspondents’ column in the September 1775 issue. After boasting of the ‘infinite pleasure’ they had in acknowledging ‘the receipt of hints from the most celebrated boarding schools in six counties, during the course of th[e] month’, the editors went on to ricochet flattery back and forth between its boarding school patrons and itself. If ‘the governesses of these seminaries are the best judges of what will contribute to the amusement, polishing, and refinement of their pupils’ then their approval of the magazine could not better convince the magazine’s editors of ‘our own importance, at the same time as we shall receive an incontrovertible proof of their sincere attachment to the good of the younger part of the sex, who have the benefit of their instructions’ (LM VI [Sept. 1776]: n. p.).

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LM II (Sept 1771). Image owned by the author.

But the esteem was not always mutual. In September 1785, for instance, a correspondent who went by Modestia wrote to the magazine’s agony aunt, Martha Gray (aka The Matron), to complain about the periodical’s publication of one of its resident physician, Dr Turnbull’s, columns on male midwifery. The issue at stake was not exactly the content of the column, but its availability to young readers ‘of both sexes’. If the magazine were ‘only to be locked up in our closets with our family medicines the discussion of such subjects might be allowable’, Modestia admitted. Given, however, that it was ‘extensively perused by young ladies at their boarding schools’, it could be ‘productive of awkward situations’. The ’embarrass[ment]’ of ‘the governess’ when posed with difficult questions arising from such content is offered up as the principal source of Modestia’s unease, but she closes, somewhat elliptically, by noting that young boarding school misses are at precisely ‘that time of life when novelty strikes us in the most forcible manner, and puts our ideas into motion’. The Matron politely brushed aside Modestia’s complaint (and completely ignores her implicit suggestion that such material might make young girls sexually inquisitive or even sexually active) by noting that precisely the same impressionability her correspondent fears ensures that young girls ‘may be easily diverted from such subjects, which they cannot understand, and turned to others more suitable to their age, and more adapted to their comprehension’ (XVI: 472).  If the compliments of boarding school mistresses were gladly accepted and publicised, their complaints were hardly taken seriously.

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LM, I (1770). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

For its part, however, the magazine would regularly caution against fashionable boarding school education and the vices of socially ambitious governesses. One such example will already be familiar to readers of this blog. In December Jenny wrote about the anonymous serial fiction, ‘The History of an Humble Friend’, which ran from September 1774 to the Supplement (or thirteenth issue) of 1776. The titular heroine, Harriot West, is sent to a boarding school at the age of five, and although her governess is kind and good (unlike many others who appear in the magazine’s pages), Harriot’s fellow pupils are no advertisement for boarding school education. Sent to such establishments by mothers who are unfit for the name so that ‘they may not provoke their jealousy at home’, these girls are given an opportunity to ‘acquire more knowledge than they would have done at home’. However, this is an opportunity that is squandered owing to the girls’ interaction with other young girls whose fashionable vices they invariably contract and in the face of which governesses are powerless: ‘At home, they [these pupils] have, perhaps, only their own failings to subdue, at school, they are, by associating with young folks of different follies, too apt, from the force of imitation, to copy the very imperfections against which they they ought to be the most strongly guarded’. Knowing how reliant the magazine was on the very approval of the establishments their contributor had slighted, the editors published this instalment of the fiction with a note at the bottom of the page which stated that ‘these remarks on Boarding-Schools’ were inserted ‘ to shew our impartiality, but [we] differ from the author in opinion’ (LM V [Oct. 1774]: 521). There is plenty of evidence elsewhere to suggest that the editors are protesting a little too much here.

But where does this leave us? What does the magazine’s inconsistent account of boarding school education tell us except that the magazine contradicts itself on this as on so many other matters? Well, for one thing, it makes clear, I think, how the magazine’s ideological fault lines and the complexity of its relationship with its readers were informed by economic imperatives (nothing new under the sun, as they say…). More than that, though, I think, it points to the one thing that I feel totally comfortable saying the magazine is actually about: not fashion, class, morals, education or women’s issues, although it it is surely about all of these things, but conversation. As Modestia unwittingly noted, the Lady’s Magazine’s business was putting ‘ideas into motion’. Sometimes these ideas gained momentum and a life of their own and sometimes they collided messily. One thing is for sure, the magazine always provoked more questions than it answered. And while that presents certain challenges to those of us who want to talk or write about the magazine, it’s surely what makes the experience of reading it so very seductive.


Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent